The key to virtual working is having the right culture

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Culture is one of those things that every business has and although it is a relatively small part of business life, it has the potential to change everything.

So often, the culture of a company is described as ‘how things get done around here’ and comprises of a combination of how behaviours are seen, role-modelled and rewarded. But it can be extremely hard to maintain company culture when the workforce is located remotely.

According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, 13.9 per cent of British workers were working remotely in 2014, and this figure has undoubtedly risen over the past couple of years. This statistic is coupled by research by the British Chamber of Commerce and BT Business, which found that 19 per cent of UK businesses claim that they had over half of their members of staff working remotely. It is perhaps surprising that despite these high numbers of remote workers, the key to a successful virtual workforce is still unknown.

Over my ten years of experience in this sector, I have come to realise that creating a fool proof virtual working culture is actually straight forward, yet challenging at the same time. So, here are two simple, engaging and motivating ways to create a virtual culture that really works:

  1. Ensure the virtual space is a natural environment

It is all too easy for conference calls and Skype sessions to feel jarred and formal when there is no need for this. It is important that managers make each participant feel comfortable and able to voice their opinions. This can be achieved in three ways:

  • Invite everyone on the call to speak early on in the conversation
  • Consciously avoid introducing yourself at the start of the meetings. It is surprising how quickly people will learn your voice and this helps eliminate the formal start of the meeting
  • Stop using the mute button. Using the mute button stops ‘real’ work, as it puts people off from quickly interrupting the conversation and suggesting ideas and thoughts that they would otherwise keep to themselves. Saying this, it is important to take conference calls in a quiet, undisturbed area to minimise any background interference.
  1. Build trust and relationships

Face-to-face meetings often include an element of general conversation about topics such as the weather and what they got up to last night but this is often lost in conference calls – managers get straight to the point. These conversations build an element of trust between participants by showing an interest in topics outside of the workplace. The key to mastering this point is to ensure everyone turns up to the Skype session on time.

Members of staff don’t walk in to a face-to-face meeting five minutes late so why is it acceptable to do this virtually? It’s because we have built this perception that virtual working isn’t ‘real working’ and doesn’t require the same levels of commitment. If participants turn up on time your meeting will be more productive and it is easy to build in general conversation which, over time, helps to establish trust and good relationships.

The two tips above can quickly and easily create the right culture needed for engaging and motivating virtual work. They have the ability to change it from an unsatisfying experience for everyone into an efficient way of communicating and improving employee satisfaction. The key to both of these tips is great leadership.

About Stephen Fortune

Stephen joined the Oxford Group in 2016 as a Principal Consultant. His experience extends across a range of high profile projects and clients including The Children’s Trust, ED&F Man, Gilead, Novartis, Legal & General, Rabobank, Johnson Press, Sainsbury’s and William Hill and now The Oxford Group.

The Oxford Group is a people-focused business driven by a passion for helping organisations get the best from their people, unleash hidden talent and successfully manage their business through times of change. The Oxford Group is part of The City & Guilds Group, a global leader in skills development, which enables people and organisations develop their skills for personal and economic growth. For more information, visit

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